No one buys the product or service your organization provides, unless someone sells it, whether this be the necessities that sustain life or the most refined intellectual creations. If someone is exchanging their money for what you sell, someone else persuaded them to do so.

Because successful selling is so fundamental to business and the economy, Mulkern Associates recently developed a sales training seminar based upon many years of successful sales experience, a synthesis of various sales seminars across the years, and on some exciting material which we recently discovered, about which more later on. Before discussing that, here is a fun and we hope instructive quick quiz:

How many of the following guidelines and maxims about sales are nearly always true?

  1. As a sales person interacting with a prospect, you should always be closing.
  2. Don’t ask closed questions that can be answered with a “yes” or “no.” Open-ended questions are more effective.
  3. The most effective sales method is to find out the problem or need and then move to a solution.
  4. Objections should be welcomed–they show you have engaged the prospect.
  5. Once objections and price issues are overcome and it is agreed that you provide a solution to a real problem, it is time to move to the close.
  6. Using the assumptive close—“would you like that in red or green?”—before the prospect has agreed to buy is rarely effective.
  7. Nothing much can be accomplished unless the main decision maker is involved in the sales presentation.
  8. In trying to land a larger sale that will involve building a long-term relationship, it is a good idea for the salesperson to meet periodically with the prospect just to stay in touch.

According to traditional sales training, most of the above are true. The research indicates that all these statements are false according to Neil Rackham, author of Spin Selling and Major Account Sales Strategy. This is the material we have recently discovered and which represents the most advanced approach to sales today—exposing what are essentially urban myths and replacing them with tactics that can increase sales effectiveness by up to 75%.

Aware that his point of view is considered heresy by many in the field, Rackham backs up his claims with massive research of over 12 years analyzing over 35,000 sales calls with over 10,000 sales people in 23 countries. He and his team observed sales people during their calls and analyzed what the best ones did that was different from what the mediocre or poor ones did. “Best” was measured in terms of actual sales results.

Below is a brief summary of why all of the above statements are rated as “false.”

  • Number 1: The various closing techniques tend to be used less frequently by the most successful sales people. In the 35,000 sales calls observed, sales persons who used on average 5.8 closing behaviors per sale made the sale less than 40% of the time. Those who made the sale 70% of the time used only an average of 1.4 closing behaviors per sales call.
  • Number 2: Research indicates both kinds of question can be equally effective.
  • Number 3: No sale will occur unless the problem is seen as sufficiently critical, painful or costly to be worth the trouble to resolve—or if the proposed solution appears to be too painful or costly in a non-monetary sense. Rushing from problem to solution without the intervening process of weighing costs and benefits is a frequently used formula for running into a brick wall of objections and considerations that may prove insurmountable.
  • Number 4: The best salespeople encounter the fewest objections because they focus on preventing rather than handling objections.
  • Number 5: Rackham introduces a distinction between objections and “considerations.” The latter often go unspoken and they can be resolved only by the prospect him or herself. For example, “what will my boss (or my employees or my wife or my husband) think if this thing fails?” Preventing considerations from sabotaging a deal requires advanced communication skills.
  • Number 6: While clearly manipulative, this can actually work quite well at lower priced sales, though it is a turn-off for the larger dollar transactions.
  • Number 7: Major account sales usually require first selling below the top level, and that is why a well-designed strategy is required for major accounts, where there are many “buyers,” each with his or her own priorities and agenda.
  • Number 8: Each meeting with a prospect needs to have specific objectives for how the process can be moved ahead or advanced. Merely maintaining a relationship can go on for years with no payoff in sales. This is often a tactic for avoiding the hard work of developing creative approaches or new prospects.

My evaluation is that Rackham’s over-all system—of which the above is but a brief preview—is very much on the mark, with some qualifications. I say this based upon many years selling various products and services—including management consulting and Executive Coaching—attending multiple sales training and sales management seminars, and having consulted with many sales-driven companies. Rackham’s research-based system has the added benefit of eliminating many of the obnoxious elements of traditional sales which so many salespeople and customer alike find intolerable.

If you want to increase your sales team’s results, you can read Rackham’s books, attend one of his (very pricey) seminars, or you can give us a call to discuss how we can help you to improve the effectiveness of your sales efforts. I promise there will be no constant closing, rush to solutions or exclusively open-ended questions. There will be a great deal of listening, empathy and cost/benefit analysis.